In Canada, there is a court case currently being heard regarding a man who was disfellowshipped (excommunicated) from a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses; this man is asking the courts to intervene, based on the argument that disfellowshipping and its subsequent shunning is something of a public health hazard, detriment to society, and so on.
I won’t comment on this disfellowshipping itself, as he was ousted from the congregation for repeated drunkenness and for confessing to being verbally abusive to his wife and sons. Certainly someone who is drunk and abusive should have little sympathy from anyone; however, the case itself aside, it’s certain statements from the lawyer working for the Watchtower that are a huge issue. During his arguments, this lawyer had the gall to say that, when someone is disfellowshipped from the religion, “normal family relations continue, with the exception of spiritual fellowship.”
Listen to that statement here, in its context:
Any former member of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses knows that this is an outright, blatant lie. Families are absolutely torn apart when someone is disfellowshipped, and not by the disfellowshipped person himself or herself; that person may want to, and try very hard to, continue their relationship with their family, but they get shut down and shut out by those active JW family members.
Communication and association isn’t even what you would call minimal, as sometimes a disfellowshipped person will only hear about births, deaths, weddings, and other important news through non-JW family members or newspaper announcements. An active member of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses may not see their own grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, if that child’s parent is disfellowshipped.
When a child, a teenager, is disfellowshipped, they may be allowed to stay in the home until they are of legal age, but may be ostracized by the family while still under the same roof. My friend Bo Juel wrote about such an experience in his book, “The Least of God’s Priorities.”
“This tale is about a woman who was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses at age thirteen and then disfellowshipped at age fifteen. She lived with her parents, and her father made it clear to her that the only reason she was still at home was that he was not allowed by government law to throw her out on the streets, as she was still a minor. He also told her that when she turned eighteen he wanted her out of his house immediately.
So for three years she lived in a house with the people who were supposed to be her guardians, her security, and yet they hardly ever spoke to her. When her parents had Witness friends over at their house, she was not allowed to go out of her room. If she needed to use the kitchen or bathroom, she was instructed to knock on her door before she left her room so that the guests could turn around and not even look at her. She then had to walk quickly to the room she needed to use, and then knock again before she had to walk back to her room. She did this for three years.
She hardly ate with her family. They rarely spoke to her.”
You don’t need to imagine what this abusive, neglectful treatment does to anyone’s, and especially to a child’s, self-esteem and self-image, and to their mental and emotional development; some psychologists have said that “long-term ostracism can result in alienation, depression, helplessness and feelings of unworthiness.” (See this report.) This type of treatment is nothing short of abuse.
You also don’t need to take my word for how disfellowshipped ones are treated by their family members; the religion itself has contradicted their own lawyer’s statement, publicly, repeatedly, in print. As an example, in the October 2016 study edition of the Watchtower, page 16, the subject of disfellowshipped family members was discussed, and it was stated outright that congregants must “avoid contact” with these ones, even through text messages and social media:
So, Watchtower, which is it? Normal family relations continue, as your lawyer blatantly claimed in court, or you’re not supposed to contact a disfellowshipped family member, even through a simple text message or email?
Abusing your family, even children, with this harsh, disgusting practice of shunning is bothersome enough, but lying about it, publicly and in a court of law, is inexcusable. It also reflects, in my opinion, the fact that Watchtower knows this practice is nothing but hurtful and hateful, and it does indeed tear families apart; they know the results of disfellowshipping include the creation of snarling, self-righteous congregants angrily harassing their own family, in order to humiliate and degrade them, so Watchtower needs to whitewash and outright lie about it in court.
Whatever this lying, unprofessional, unscrupulous, unethical lawyer says, the truth is that normal family relations do not continue after someone is disfellowshipped, unless, of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses think that abuse, harassment, humiliation, isolation, anger, and degradation are normal. Come to think of it, based on the experiences I’ve seen and heard over the years, that might actually be the most truthful statement about the religion anyone could make.
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